TRENTON, N.J. (CBSNewYork/AP) — A former aide to Gov. Chris Christie said she had no knowledge of or involvement in a political payback plot at the George Washington Bridge.
The ex-aide, Christina Renna, testified for more than two hours under oath before a committee investigating politically motivated lane closings that caused four days of gridlock in Fort Lee in September.
Renna worked under Christie’s fired deputy chief of staff, Bridget Kelly. Kelly appeared to set the lane closings in motion when she sent an email saying, “Time for some traffic problems in Fort Lee.”
Renna resigned in February. Christie fired Kelly in January.
The scandal has become a major distraction for Christie as he contemplates a 2016 White House bid. Separate federal and legislative investigations are continuing.
Renna said she was unaware of the motive behind the lane closures, but testified that she kept a copy of an email in which Kelly appears glad that the traffic tie-ups are causing distress to Fort Lee Mayor Mark Sokolich, even after Kelly asked her in December to delete the message.
In the September email, Renna said Fort Lee’s mayor was asking another staffer if the closure was political retribution. Renna wrote, “First responders are having a terrible time.” Kelly responded, “Good.”
A committee member said Kelly sent the email to the governor’s chief counsel. Christie has denied having any prior knowledge to the lane closures.
Renna testified that on Dec. 12, when the governor said publicly his staff wasn’t involved in the closures, Kelly called her.
“She was enormously nervous,” Renna said.
“She led by saying, ‘I didn’t know anything about this,’ the lane closures. I countered with, ‘Well, yes, you did because Mayor Sokolich called Evan, and I emailed you about it.'”
Renna denied that politics infiltrated the governor’s office during Christie’s re-election campaign. She said all political work happened after work or on weekends, or when staff took vacations to perform political work.
Yet, she said that Kelly’s department, the Office of Intergovernmental Affairs, kept lists, at least informally, of the mayors who endorsed Christie or were thinking of doing so. She denied those targets received extra attention from the administration, however.
“The bridge lane closures did not in any way, shape or form exemplify the IGA that I know,” Renna said. “For four years, the IGA’s focus was good government.”
Renna also confirmed the administration’s depiction of Kelly as a staff member overwhelmed with her professional responsibilities and parental duties as a single mother of four. She said she often tried to placate Kelly or make her life easier.
As WCBS 880’s Peter Haskell reported, Renna testified that she knew her boss had a problem with Sokolich, but never knew why.
When asked if she was told not to return phone calls from Sokolich, Renna said she was “not told directly to not return a phone call to the mayor of Fort Lee.”
“There was an email exchange I shared with Bridget Kelly where she was clearly unhappy that a member of our staff proactively outreached to Mayor Sokolich and set up a meeting,” she testified. “She was clearly angered by that, although I didn’t know why. Based on her reaction, I advised staff to just, ‘lets wait and see, maybe we can figure out what the problem is.'”
She added, “It didn’t make sense to me at the time.”
Renna testified that Kelly was “insecure,” had difficulty making decisions and communicated often with former Christie political operative Bill Stepien.
Renna went on to describe the dynamics of the Christie inner circle and said she received directives not only from Kelly, but also from Stepien, CBS 2’s Marcia Kramer reported.
Christie also cut ties with Stepien, who managed his two gubernatorial campaigns, amid the scandal.
An internal review commissioned by Christie found the Republican governor didn’t learn of the lane closings until afterward.
The report, by New York lawyer Randy Mastro, blamed Kelly and David Wildstein, a former operative at the Port Authority, for hatching and carrying out the plot.
The Mastro report also found that Stepien knew about the lane closings, but not the motive.
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